Thursday, March 31, 2011


Now that is a truck.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011


When Jon and I were first married, we painted the walls and doors of our West LA house about a dozen different colors. It was kind of like living inside of a kaleidoscope. All you had to do was turn your head for festive, ever changing views of what would have otherwise been a fairly nondescript late 1940s bungalow. In a part of town known for its beige stucco, the inside of that house was a welcome change. It was hard to stay bored staring at a ceiling painted with multicolored flowers, hard to stay mad at a dinner table surrounded by red walls and gold stars. If there had been a staircase in that house, I probably would have painted it just like this one at Busters.

I've been musing about South Pasadena's multicolored landscape lately ... just check out my latest column at Patch. It should post sometime before lunch today.

Update Tuesday Morning: Thanks to the readers pointing out my latest article and video aren't showing up under my column heading at Patch this week. Until it gets fixed, just click here for the South Pas Patch front page and you'll find my column.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

A Car of One's Own

Virginia Woolf was once asked why she liked driving so much.

"The sense it gives one of lighting accidentally," she said, "like a voyager who touches another planet with the tip of his toe, upon scenes which would have gone on, have always gone on, will go on, unrecorded, save for this chance glimpse. Then it seems to me I am allowed to see the heart of the world uncovered for a moment."

(I think Virginia would have totally loved this El Camino.)

Monday, March 28, 2011

Still Life With Dirt Pile

It's the number 3 that does it for me. (Hey, if Fair Oaks is going to be torn up for a while, we might as well make art out of it...)

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Moon by iPhone

Just found this on my phone. I took it on the night of the recent Supermoon. Yeah, it would have been great shot with the good camera and a telephoto lens but I am fond of the blurry, impressionistic sweetness of this one. (Or maybe I've just had too much cold medicine this week.)

Saturday, March 26, 2011

That's my story and I'm sticking to it...

In case South Pasadena residents may have been disturbed by loud music blasting from a certain giddy woman's open sunroof as she took her new car for a spin yesterday ... well, um, it wasn't me.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Appropos of Nothing...

To me, this will always look like a one-eyed tree who is singing an aria while doing tai chi.

(Then again, I'm weird.)

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Swingset Break

This is definitely not the best photo I've ever posted, but I figure we could all use something whimsical right about now.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Storm Watching

The parrots chattered more than usual before the storm blew in. As for the weather forecast, winter doesn't want to leave Los Angeles just yet, despite the vernal equinox.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Make mine a double

The Allee family has been visited by the Kindergarten Rhinovirus Fairy yet again, so I'm fresh out of ideas and feeling mighty cranky. Plus, it's been so long since I've been to a bar, I had to refresh my memory with this picture from my files. (It's from Carmines. Just look at how much fun you can have if you brave the Fair Oaks Avenue construction zone!)

Basically, I got nothing today, gang.

So what topic can we talk about ... Charlie Sheen? Japan? Libya? Another oil spill in the gulf? Nuclear fallout? Jeez, we could all use a drink.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Here's an idea...

Maybe the people at Comerica Bank will have an idea of how to fix the Fair Oaks construction debacle. Just look at how beautifully they restored our historic building on the corner of Fair Oaks and Mission. (Rosettes and all!)

Friday, March 18, 2011

Well, at least nobody's pronouncing it "Nucular"

When people in Southern California say they're going out to catch some rays, they don't usually mean nuclear fallout. Today, a radioactive plume that has travelled 5000 miles from Japan's damaged nuclear reactors will most likely reach the west coast. Officials from the EPA, AQMD, California Dept. of Public Health and LA County spent yesterday issuing reassuring statements that the remaining level of isotopes will be harmless, and reminding people that earthquake preparedness starts with a home kit that has a good supply of batteries.

To which I say, if we get a 9.0 earthquake here, do you really believe we're going to be thinking about batteries?

I have no idea if the officials are right and we have nothing to fear from the latest chapter in Japan's unfolding tragedy. I know that in the 1920s, officials told everyone to take radium "cures." In the 1950s, officials assured us that Nevada bomb test sites posed no threat to the local residents. So, whether or not the dissipated radiation migrating to SoCal today is truly harmless may not be known until we all grow a second head in a few years. Who knows, maybe my second one will have x-ray vision and a photographic memory. Let's look on the bright side, right?

Officials have told us some other things recently, too. They've told us that California has thousands of concrete buildings -- most are offices and apartments built since the 70s -- that will likely collapse in a quake of Japan's magnitude. They've told us that our own nearby Diablo Canyon nuclear reactor has had a near miss even in the absence of a catastrophic earthquake. So what happens if a big quake does occur near Diablo Canyon? What is the emergency earthquake contingency plan? It doesn't have one. (But I'll bet it has a stockpile of batteries!)

These are weird times, people. While I'm not advocating putting on tinfoil hats and popping potassium iodide pills, I do think we need to ask our officials some serious questions about California earthquake preparedness. Which buildings are unsafe and what can we do to fix them? How can we safeguard Diablo Canyon? The structure was built to withstand an earthquake with a maximum magnitude of of between 7.1 and 7.5, but Californians have known for years that a "Big One" will eventually happen. Banking on it just not happening anytime soon is not a policy I feel comfortable with. I'm fairly certain my future second head will agree.

For daily radiation levels in Southern California, click here for the AQMD report.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

in this world...

One of the best things about folklore and fairy tales is that the best fantasy is what you find right around the corner, in this world.

--Terri Windling

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Sunrise over Foremost Liquor

I can already hear your questions: what was I doing outside a liquor store in the early morning hours, and didn't my mother ever tell me not to stare at the sun?!

I know I posted a couple of similar shot recently here and here, but I've been inspired by the sun as a subject. Blame it on recent solar flares.

UPDATE: My latest column at South Pasadena Patch will post sometime before lunch today. It's about Fair Oaks -- please read/watch and add your opinions to the comments section.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Settings: Part 35

I've wanted to play this game here for a while. So tell me, my darling readers with such interesting cinematic genius ... if this were the setting for a scene in a movie, what would happen here?

Monday, March 14, 2011


Every year, Japanese cherry blossoms known as sakura blanket the entire archipelago starting in Okinawa in January and ending up in Kyoto and Tokyo around the end of March. It is a pattern that has often been seen as analogous to the vitality of the Japanese people. These blooms also symbolize clouds, due to the fact that they appear together in fluffy clusters, last a brief time in beautiful, shimmering fragility and then fade quickly with petals falling like rain. It's not surprising that the cherry blossom has come to represent the ephemeral nature of human existence.

This understanding of life's fleeting beauty -- so deeply ingrained in Japanese culture -- is often associated the Buddhist concept of mono no aware which literally translates to "the pathos of things." This term is often used to describe human beings' soulful understanding of impermanence. It has come to express the wistful sadness we feel when we realize the transience of things. Of people. Of ourselves.

Cherry blossoms are in full bloom in South Pasadena right now. When I look at one, in light of the tragedy in Japan, it is my object of soliloquy, my totem of reflection. For centuries, the Japanese have met under blooming cherry trees to sing and dance, to celebrate life in the moment. But today in Japan, there is devastation and tragedy beneath the famous flowering branches. Today, a traumatized nation meets beneath them to mourn the loss of loved ones who have fallen too soon, like the petals of those beautiful, short-lived blossoms.

Many of you know my multifaceted connection to Japan. My father was an Army Air Corps officer who was stationed in Okinawa during World War 2. He spent long, arduous months in a B-24 following the horrific commands of war. After the fighting, he spent months in Tokyo during the occupation where he saw the Japanese trying to rebuild, and an entire country trying to be reborn. I spent many hours as a teenager asking him questions, and one thing he said always stuck with me. "I had never seen a people as tough or as resilient as the Japanese," he said. "I also had a feeling that in a few decades we'd all be sitting down to drink Saki together because when you take the politics out of things, and the generals and the emperors stop jockeying for first place, what you have left are the people. We're all just people."

We did more than drink Saki together. Many years later, I fell in love with Jon and married him. Jon's grandparents had come to Southern California from Japan in the 1920s to start a new life, and a family. While my father was flying raids over Japan, Jon's mother, aunts, uncles and grandparents were held in Poston -- one of the first of the ten Japanese American internments camps.

After the war when Jon's grandfather started anew, he was known for his beautiful garden. I'm not certain, but I suspect it contained at least one cherry tree.

Life is transient and ephemeral. Things change, enemies become friends, new ideas are born and old grudges die. But in the midst of all our growing and evolving, huge and unexpected horrors cut short our blooms. I think we all look for reasons when tragedies happen. Wars, natural disasters -- we want to know why. We want explanations and narrative conclusions that give resolution and meaning. But the only things we seem to latch onto are symbols.

The cherry tree is a symbol of my own wistful realization of impermanence, of fragility and transience. Distant cousins of those Japanese Sakura bloom here, in yet another part of the world resting upon a fault that, at any moment, could turn paradise into rubble. It's a terrifying thought, one made more painfully real by images from Japan. But I believe that no matter what catastrophe nature brings, hope will prevail. And because of that belief, the cherry tree symbolizes transformation. Despite the recent tragedy, Japan will bloom again.

"Live in simple faith..." Buddhist priest and poet Kobayashi Issa once wrote, "just as this trusting cherry flower blooms, fades and falls."
For a list of excellent (and easy) ways to help Japan in the aftermath of the devastating earthquake and tsunami, Mashable has a helpful list right here.

Saturday, March 12, 2011


We can't command fate to be more fair. We can't wrestle tragedy into submission, complain to some cosmic general manager or direct life into a more balanced narrative. We can't guarantee our children a safe planet. We can't comprehend world events that make the violent excess of Michael Bay movies seem understated.

But we can be sure of a few things: that marshmallows are better roasted, that hot chocolate smoothes a frayed soul and that when you snuggle with those you love around a fireplace you rekindle hope.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Technical Difficulties

My laptop battery is out of juice. When I plugged in the charger, the cord buzzed, sparked and shorted out.


Unfortunately, a trip to Best Buy at midnight is out of the question. So, here's a picture of snow on the mountains. It was the only shot on my camera, taken yesterday from Monterey Hills. Now I feel perfectly justified having a netbook as well as a laptop. At almost 1000 daily posts, I can't break my stride because of equipment malfunction!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

A Conversation with Mark Bittner

Tonight at 7:00PM, the South Pasadena Public Library Community Room will screen the award winning 2005 documentary The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill. This rich and fascinating film captures several months in the life of Mark Bittner -- a gentle bohemian who in the process of befriending a flock of wild San Francisco parrots discovers his own true path.

Through Mark's narration -- and the brilliant cinematography of filmmaker Judy Irving -- we meet a cast of feathered characters right out of a Hollywood blockbuster. There is Connor the outcast, a lonely outsider whose blue feathered crown sets him apart from the red-headed flock. There is the mischievous homebody Mingus who wants more than anything to hang out inside Mark's apartment -- and under his refrigerator. There is frail, noble Tupulo who ultimately teaches Mark a heartbreaking lesson about connectedness that comes right from the pages of Zen poetry. These birds and many others round out a multifaceted cast in a surprisingly moving story about fitting in, finding yourself and falling in love.

Mark Bittner will introduce the film tonight, conduct a Q&A session and read passages from his bestselling book The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill: A Love Story ... With Wings. He will also read a short section from his newest book in progress, Street Song.

I had the pleasure of chatting with Mark on the phone yesterday and came away from the exchange feeling a lot like how I felt when I first saw the movie: inspired. Here are some highlights from our conversation:

LA: When you were approached about this documentary were you excited about the idea or did you think you didn’t want someone intruding on this personal part of your life?

MB: I knew I wouldn’t be doing it forever, and I’d hoped that somebody would come along and do some kind of video so that I could have a visual memory later. When Judy first came up to me, her idea wasn’t to make a feature length film at all, it was just to shoot something and see where it went. It sounded fine to me, I thought it was just going to be some kind of collection of memories for me. It just gradually developed into what it became.

LA: When you guys were shooting the film, did you have any idea it would be so special and resonate with people the way it has?

MB: I think by the time the editing was done, yes. You can do something good but that doesn’t mean it’s going to really get out there. I mean, we all have all kinds of books and records that are great that hardly anybody knows about.

LA: And we lend those books and hope people will like them the way we do.

MB: Exactly.

LA: Well this film obviously struck a universal nerve. I was struck by a metaphor -- and I've thought about this with regard to the parrots in South Pasadena, too. You mentioned it in the film that naturalists find these birds to be intruders, to be encroaching on the natural habitat. Bird watchers don’t care much about them. Parrot owners often consider them to be escaped pets. So these birds don't really fit in anywhere. They are, in a way, a metaphor for the black sheep, the rebels and the outsiders of society.

MB: Yes they are.

LA: Do you think that because you were on a kind of outsider path in your own life that they spoke to you on a certain level?

MB: I can't say that exactly, but that is a very interesting idea. You know, it’s important to note that there are a lot of parrot flocks across the United States. All of them are non native, existing in the unnatural environments of suburban planted gardens. That’s the only way they can survive because they come from areas where there is food growing all year round and they don’t have the seasons that we have here. Because people plant gardens and have food, they thrive.

LA: It begs the question of when something actually becomes native. The parrots here love the palm trees

MB: Non native palm trees!

LA: Right!

MB: But to get back to your question, I don’t know that I felt a connection to them as an outsider but Judy always connected Connor and me. She always said we were connected. I didn’t see it at the time -- I was too close to it, maybe. But I can see it now. I was an outsider and I especially liked Connor for his outsiderness, I guess.

LA: You experienced a "tune in, turn on, drop out" lifestyle for a period of time.

MB: Absolutely.

LA: You mentioned in the film that pursuing a traditional career seemed counter intuitive to your spiritual path. Do you think these birds were the gatekeepers for you to find your true path?

MB: Yes I do. The way I look at it is that I’m still on the same course. When I was 21 I dropped what I was doing. Nothing was working out for me because I was trying to do something I just wasn’t equipped to do -- to be a musician. If I work hard at it, I’m okay, I’m competent, but I’m not a natural musician. But I liked it because that was what was happening at the time. When I was 21, I dropped everything and I just went down this road and I didn’t know where I was going, and I certainly didn’t foresee where it would lead me. There is stuff that’s not included in the film, that’s not even in the book that I’ve discovered recently. I’m convinced that the parrots were what I was supposed to do. I was just meant to do it. I'm on the same path, but they were at the very end of a particular segment and at the doorway of the next segment.

LA: So it's kinda like when Carl Jung and Bruno Bettelheim talked about the archetypes that lead you to your next place, your revelation. The birds served that purpose.

MB: Very much so. Absolutely.

LA: There is a profound and tragic moment in the film where you experience the loss of a parrot you were particularly close to. As an animal lover, I was extremely moved by your transformation after this happened. How did that experience change your opinion of consciousness and life and personality and, I guess, your sense of interconnectedness?

MB: At that point I think I began to look much more seriously at what I was doing. It’s like the pain of her passing made me question some very basic things. What is a personality? What happens when you die? I was forced to tie together a bunch of ideas that had been hanging loose in my brain for a long time and I finally understood something that I didn’t or couldn’t understand before.

LA: And what was that? What did you understand?

MB: Well, we often hear the idea that all life is one, that mind is one. I’d always paid lip service to that but I still sort of thought of it as a metaphor. I don’t think of it as a metaphor anymore. I think of it as an actual living reality.

Join Mark Bittner tonight at the South Pasadena Library Community Room. It is located at 1115 El Centro Street. No tickets or reservations are necessary and refreshments will be provided. The film is Rated G and doors will open at 6:30 p.m.

Check out Mark's website here.

Listen to South Pasadena's own wild parrots right here.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011


Ever since we crawled out of that primordial slime, that's been our unifying cry, "More light." Sunlight. Torchlight. Candlelight. Neon, incandescent lights that banish the darkness from our caves to illuminate our roads, the insides of our refrigerators. Big floods for the night games at Soldier's Field. Little tiny flashlights for those books we read under the covers when we're supposed to be asleep. Light is more than watts and footcandles. Light is metaphor. Light is knowledge, light is life, light is light.

--Diane Frolov and Andrew Schneider

Light is knowledge.
True. The light from these lamps have nurtured generations of knowledge, hanging for so many years in the South Pasadena Public Library Community Room. I always feel emotionally illuminated when I see them; I always wish I could channel Brassai when I photograph them.

(And speaking of the library, if you haven't already read my latest column about it at South Pasadena Patch, I'd love it if you'd check it out.)

Monday, March 7, 2011

Druid Sensibilities

I love the way so many South Pas houses are obscured by massive trees in the yard. Add today's photo to this one and this one and we have the beginning of a series.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Snapshot from Gus's

The decor of Gus's BBQ inspires me almost as much as the garlic mashed potatoes. I couldn't resist a quick shot of those wonderful booths, pendant lamps and vintage South Pas photos. Next time, I'm bringing my good camera. (It was well worth braving Fair Oaks to get there yesterday. Actually, we just snuck around the back way through the alley.)

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Storm over Fair Oaks

I snapped this shot the other day when the winter storm was approaching. Now, Fair Oaks is dealing with another kind of black cloud. Business owners are struggling to get by with the massive gridlock caused by the city's street improvements. Several spoke out at the last city council meeting with stories of lost revenues and layoffs.

Those of us who have maneuvered Fair Oaks know that the situation has impacted the business community because it's such a hassle to get to the shops and offices. Both sides of the street are torn up with open trenches. Work vehicles regularly block traffic in the two remaining lanes. You might be tempted to walk, but good luck finding sidewalks that haven't been turned to rubble.

Look, we can complain about this and wonder about the way it was executed but that won't help our neighbors who are taking a huge economic hit. I believe each of us should make an effort to patronize one of the Fair Oaks establishments this weekend, even if it means getting cement dust all over the car.

Grab champagne and ribs at Gus's brunch. Too much? Then go for a Napa salad at Shakers or an Italian chopped salad at Wild Thyme. The coffee is worth crawling over rocks to get into Starbucks or the Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf. The tarts at Union Bakery are as good as you remember. And nothing, I do mean nothing takes away the headache caused by a loud jackhammer quite like a Raymond Sundae from Fair Oaks Pharmacy.

There are dozens of other shops and stores I haven't mentioned. Go to one of them. They need our help.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Calling all Baseball Fans

When Los Angeles Dodgers historian Mark Langhill spoke at the South Pasadena Library a few weeks ago, he brought along a few surprises: three 12X18 historic baseball photos to be auctioned off as a fundraiser for the Friends of South Pasadena Library. I was lucky enough to see these sweet pictures the other day, and as a baseball fan I was prompted to distract head librarian Steve Fjeldsted, grab the pictures and run. Instead, I just grabbed this shot as the photos lay spread out on the library conference room table.

The photos include a beautiful autographed press box shot of Vin Scully, an autographed photo of Duke Snider wearing his classic Brooklyn Dodger uniform and an amazing black and white shot (printed from the original negative!) of Sandy Koufax, John Kennedy and Wes Parker clinching the National League pennant at Dodger Stadium on October 2, 1965. This particular photo is autographed by Parker and former Dodger outfielder Lou Johnson, who would hit the winning home run in the decisive World Series Game 7 at Minnesota, landing the Dodgers a championship. (Go Dodgers!)

The minimum bid for each photo is $75. Bids are currently being accepted by email only and must be received before midnight on March 31, 2011. Just email . Please refer to the photos in your email as: (1) Scully, (2) Snider, and/or (3) Parker & Johnson. Make sure to include your name, daytime phone number, email address, and your bid(s) for one or more photographs. Winning bidders will be notified around April 1, 2011. A Letter of Authenticity will be provided with every photo.

The Friends of South Pasadena Library is a nonprofit support group whose efforts have helped our library to become our town's artistic and cultural center. Funds raised by the Friends pay for library programs, acquisitions, art, furniture and -- of course -- books. (You can read more about the art and activities at the library by checking out my latest column at South Pasadena Patch.)

UPDATE: Thanks to the several readers who emailed me with the sad news that Duke Snider passed away this past Sunday in Escondido. He was 84.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Trick of the Light

This is my last shot from the mysterious (and wonderful) sunset moments last week as a winter storm approached. I've already shown off with two lucky shots of the colorplay in the southern sky. Here is a different vantage point looking north, toward Pasadena, where the San Gabriel Mountains are shrouded in clouds and the trees along Arroyo Drive look like gold baubles on dark blue velvet. Ah, Nature!

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Personal Favorite

Today is the first day of the month and that means it's Theme Day for participating City Daily Photo bloggers. This month's theme is Your Favorite Part of Town.

Well that's a no-brainer!

Long-time readers of GOSP know I have a love affair with the South Pasadena Public Library. Not only is it one of the most picturesque of our historic buildings, it's one of the most vibrant, energetic, artistic parts of the city. As a matter of fact, I feature the art, architecture and activities of the library in my column this week at South Pasadena Patch. (It should post sometime today before lunchtime.)

Stay tuned for more information on upcoming library events. And to visit my fellow bloggers' favorite local haunts, be sure to take a look at today's Theme Day offerings. Click here to view thumbnails for all participants